2011 World Cruiser Shootout [Video]
Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom vs. Honda Sabre vs. Moto Guzzi California vs. Triumph Thunderbird
2011 Moto Guzzi California Black Eagle $13,490
“Although out-calibered in displacement, the Cali’s revvy V-Twin feels quite spritely,” says Kevin’s notepad. “From a stop, its tall first gear requires some clutch slippage at the end of its lever travel, but its relatively lofty powerband (limited to 7250 rpm) makes it very usable in city traffic. However, the response from the relatively primitive fuel-injection system sometimes lags due to what feels like a lean condition, and this is the only bike with a manual fuel-enrichener, which is needed during cold starts.”
Additionally, the Guzzi has a weight advantage that helps mask its low-end power deficit. With a claimed ready-to-ride curb weight of 590 pounds the Goose is a whopping 156 pounds lighter than the hefty Triumph.
“The big-digit torque figures bursting from the T-Bird’s 1597cc vertical-Twin is head-jerking good fun, but at 746 pounds full of fluids I simply tired of holding the beast up at stoplights,” says Tom. Although he acknowledges the Goose’s softish power delivery in his recent review of the Black Eagle Tom says he prefers the Italian bike’s lighter, more maneuverable mannerisms to outright big power.
Normally enraptured by high-horsepower screamers, Racer Boy Troy also sees the charm in the Guzzi’s engine. “Despite having the smallest engine, and an air-cooled one at that, the Guzzi actually didn’t leave me wanting more in the power department,” quips Troy. “It pulled with gusto and has a unique exhaust note that would sound even better with an aftermarket exhaust fitted.”
Kevin’s seasoned eye points out the Guzzi offers the broadest, roomiest saddle with ample rider accommodations. However, when it comes to ergos, the good news ends at the plush seat. Floorboards on a cruiser often make a nice upgrade from footpegs, but the Black Eagle’s boards are placed high, which is great for creating useful cornering clearance but detrimental to seat-to-floorboard relation.
Tom, the tallest of us, found the ‘boards high placement, in combination with the handlebar position, an impediment to smoothly maneuvering the Goose in tight spaces, as he discovered his knees getting caught between the large 5.0-gallon fuel tank and handlebar. Interestingly, with our shorter inseams, Troy and I had similar issues. “The floorboards are so high that my knees would often get in the way of my hands,” laments Troy. “That wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that my hands are tasked with steering the bike.”
Continuing the Guzzi’s odd ergo layout is a shifter with almost no room to wedge a boot under. “Why I can’t I get my left toe under the shifter, even with a little size-8 boot,” Kevin questions indignantly. The work-around for this ergo foible is to use the rear part of the heel/toe shifter.
The brake pedal is no more accommodating, requiring the rider to rest his or her heel on a knob at the back of the brake pedal arm, rather than the floorboard, to achieve manageable modulation of the rear brake. On the subject of brakes, stopping force and sensitivity from the Guzzi’s dual Brembos up front is decent, but not one of us cared for how aggressively the front brake was applied via the linked system when braking solely with the rear. We found applying the front brake first the most effective – and reassuring – method for slowing quickly, and for keeping our blood pressure from spiking.
Finish quality on the various chrome surfaces seems lost to 1971, when the original California was first introduced. Various bolts were showing early signs of rust, and some chrome surfaces are substandard compared to the finish on modern motorcycles. And, as we noted in our earlier review of the Guzzi, “the sloppy welds on the passenger grab rail are unpleasant.” We also didn’t like the Eagle’s ultra-long sidestand that is extremely awkward to deploy, with retracting equally as annoying, as it’s accompanied by a loud clang as two springs slam it to its stops.
But crappy chrome and stupid-long sidestands be damned if all you’re interested in is a cruiser with handling that’s far superior to the other three.
The California Black Eagle exposes its Italian roots by including damping adjusters on its fork, quickly settable by a dial at the top of each fork leg, compression on the left and rebound on the right. Each shock also provides for rebound damping via a shock-top-mounted dial, and preload is of the ramp-adjuster style. Further aiding ride quality and excellent chassis manners on this best handling bike of the bunch is an adjustable Italian-made TT Suspension steering damper. The Guzzi is the only cruiser here to go to such lengths with suspension.
“The Moto Guzzi California Black Eagle is an anomaly among cruisers. Besides its iconic tractor engine, the nonconformist Guzzi is the only ‘cruiser’ that handles like a normal motorcycle,” says Tom. “You’ll run out of rubber before you run out of cornering clearance.”
We can’t use the word unique enough to describe this black sheep cruiser. If you want to blend quaint retro originality dipped in quirkiness and topped off with genuine riding performance, the Moto Guzzi California Black Eagle is an ideal candidate.